The Alabama Shakes took the stage last night wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Brittany Howard grabs the mic stand and bellows, "1, 2, 3... Are you too scared to dance for me?"
Formed out of Athens, Alabama in 2009, this old-fashioned rock phenomenon has come a long way since their days playing Zeppelin and CCR covers in empty bars. Last night, they sold out the House of Blues and blew the roof off. The setlist went like this:
1. Goin' to the Party
2. Hold On
3. Hang Loose
4. Always Alright
5. I Found You
6. Rise to the Sun
8. Boys and Girls
9. Be Mine
10. Worryin' Blues
11. On Your Way
13. Makin' Me Itch
14. You Ain't Alone
15. Heavy Chevy
16. I Still Ain't Got What I Want
17. I Ain't the Same
18. Heat Lightning
The Alabama Shakes have an old-fashioned vibe reminiscent of Otis Redding and Smokey Robinson. Their sound takes you back to the Sixties when music mattered because of how it made you feel. When Brittany Howard's voice resonates through the speakers and shakes the floor, it is impossible not to feel.
Howard, lead singer and guitarist, was born with a voice to be heard. As young as three years old, she would impersonate Elvis and sing Lieber & Stolly's "Hound Dog" with a bluegrass band. As Brittany prospered, her voice grew so heavy it could knock you off your feet. With only one album released Howard has already been compared to Janis Joplin, particularly on the slow-burning ballad, "You Ain't Alone."
The band began recording at Howard's 12-room home she inherited from her great-grandfather. Things were slow, and trying to produce an album in a mildew-infested laundry room was proving a failure. It wasn't long before all the tapes were ruined and it was time to find a legitimate studio to record in. During the search, somebody approached the Shakes and said, "What you're doing is either accidentally genius or completely amateur." My guess is accidental genius.
The first single to hit the radio from Alabama Shakes' Boys and Girls, "Hold On," is an example of just that. For a long while, Howard had the opening groove figured out, but was lacking melodies and lyrics. One night on stage, the singer looked out to the crowd and felt something in her bones. In a serendipitous moment of creativity, she motioned the band to just start playing, and the song came to life. The crowd was filled with hundreds of lips singing along as if the words had existed for them to know.
That happens when you're doing what you're love. All it takes is one listen to get hooked, so plug in your headphones and crank up the volume: